JC / Railbird

Stewards

Three Strikes and a Pause

California’s new whip rules are in effect after much prep:

The CHRB said the effort has involved a review of racing videos and informing jockeys when their actions would have incurred a penalty under the impending rule. “Stewards report that jockeys are now in substantial compliance,” the CHRB said.

7/3/15 Update: More on the implementation of the new whip rules:

“It’s honestly going to help riders in general,” Van Dyke said. “If you go rapid-fire, like hit a horse four times quick, your horse tends to drift more. The whip rule will make the rider focus more on staying straight. I think it’s great.”

7/4/15 Update: Two riders fined for violations.

House Rule

Relevant Belmont Stakes-eve information on whip use via the New York Times:

In New York, the state issues a fine or penalty for excessive use of the whip. But since 2010, racing stewards have also enforced a house rule of no more than five strikes in succession, with a pause of two or three strides to see if the horse responds.

When a rider violates the rule, one of the tan wall phones in the jockeys’ locker room will ring, Dr. Hill said, and the call will go out: “Movies for Jockey A tomorrow” — meaning a violation was caught on film, and the jockey will be given a $500 fine that will go to a track-related charity.

Retired jockey and NYRA analyst Richard Migliore says he’d like to see a whip rule that goes beyond the soon-to-be implemented California guidelines: “one strike of the whip, then wait a few strides to see if the horse responds.”

Pop, Pop, Pop

Steve Haskin on the 32 strikes debate:

Did Victor Espinoza overdo his use of the whip in the Kentucky Derby? It would certainly appear that he did. In his mind, was it abuse or mistreatment? Of course not …

So, while Espinoza is guilty of overuse of the whip on Stellar Wind, and arguably American Pharoah, and deserves to be punished, incidents like that are going to continue unless we adopt policies like the one they have in England. Not because of any cruel intent, but because of the natural act of using the whip to urge on a horse. You can’t just tell a jockey to stop something he’s done all his life. You have to make penalties serve as an inducement where he at least thinks about what he’s doing and learns to control his actions. The British jockeys have learned it; so can ours.

It sounds as though the stewards’ review of the Kentucky Derby is over:

“We have [reviewed the ride again] and we have the same feeling we had after the race was over: It’s within the boundaries of our regulations. He did hit the horse quite a few times but it was all within the rules of the state.”

Calvin Borel explains why jockeys may use padded crops more:

“You have to hit them six times to one times to the old crop; that’s what it amounts to, because they really don’t feel it,” Borel said. “With that kind of crop [padded], you have to — not hit them hard — but keep popping them.

“Riders hit them more often probably because of the pop, pop, pop; it keeps making noise. And it probably looks worse. With the regular whip, you get their attention when you hit them one time.”

Whipping the Issue

Pull the Pocket on Victor Espinoza’s heavy hand in the Kentucky Derby:

I don’t know why we make things so difficult in horse racing: 32 is excessive by any measure. That’s against a rule, thus you penalize him. Next year, if you don’t want to see the same thing on national TV, you pass, or alter the rule beforehand and let the jocks know in the room that excessive use will result in a 14 day suspension. That would not allow the jock to ride in the Preakness. The jocks — who are professionals — will fall in line and your problem will be solved.

Except the people charged with keeping the rules don’t seem to see an issue with what happened. Although there are plans to review Espinoza’s whip use on American Pharoah, “clearly this is a discretionary issue,” chief steward Barbara Borden told Marty McGee (DRF paywalled, sorry). If there’s a point to press, it’s in the rule that a horse be given time to respond after being struck. As I said elsewhere, it didn’t look as though Pharoah got that.

Trainer Bob Baffert also downplayed how Espinoza used his riding crop on American Pharaoh, saying during the NTRA teleconference on Tuesday:

“I never noticed it during the race, and then … I read something yesterday. I went back and looked at it. The horse — first of all, the whips they use now, they’re so light … and he was just keeping him busy, because … the horse was not responding when he turned for home … he just was keeping him busy, and he was flogging him and hitting him, but he hits him on the saddle towel. He doesn’t really hit that hard, so he was just keeping him busy.”

It’s “flogging,” but it’s not a problem. And for the most part, watching most races, I agree, especially about allowing riders discretion — jockeys say the crop is required for safety and control, and because they’re the people putting their mobility and lives on the line in each race, theirs is the perspective that most matters. The crop also has a place in encouraging a horse. But neither control nor encouragement get in the way of articulating and enforcing limits.

Related to whipping not being a problem (in a slightly different way), here’s a quick post Dana Byerly put together last fall when Santa Anita was considering a change to its whip use rule (the new rule, which restricts riders to three consecutive strikes before they must pause, passed statewide in November).

6:45 PM Addendum: Santa Anita stewards have fined Espinoza $300 for a whip violation. He broke the skin of Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks on April 4, as reported by the state veterinarian in the test barn post-race. Trainer John Sadler tells the Blood-Horse, though, “This is the first I’ve heard of it and I don’t remember noticing any marks on the horse then.”

Gate Break Checks

Santa Anita stewards have tightened their policy on vet checks for gate breaks, following a January incident in which a horse pushed through its stall doors before the start and then didn’t run its best race after losing two teeth:

While stopping short of automatically scratching horses that break through the gate, we decided that the veterinarian will look at every horse that opens the gate in any way. This will not only provide safety for horses and riders but will also protect the wagering public by providing some opportunity to change wagers if necessary.

Via the February 5, 2011 stewards’ minutes.

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